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Watching the Watchdog: 2012, the Deadliest Year for Journalists

Posted: 11/28/2012 5:02 pm

Tim Knight writes the media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Did you know that 16 journalists have been killed in Syria this year while trying to bring you news of what's happening in that war?

Did you know that around the world, 119 journalists have died in the line of duty this year? The worst year ever.

Did you know that a journalist is deliberately killed somewhere in the world every eight days?

And did you know that more than one out of every three of those journalists are murdered, one way or another, by governments? And nine out of every 10 murderers of journalists go free. This is the norm, the way it is, in our honourable craft today. And the job's getting ever more dangerous.

The highly respected international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reminds us that journalist killings threaten "everyone's right to seek and convey news and opinion."

Which means, of course, that the killings threaten our Canadian right too. Just as much as the right of the citizens of the 10 most dangerous countries for journalists -- Iraq (151 journalist deaths), the Philippines (73), Algeria (60), Russia (53), Somalia (48), Pakistan (46), Colombia (43), India (28), Mexico (28) and Afghanistan (24).

Scariest of all though, is the CPJ's finding that: "Government officials and allied paramilitary groups are suspected of being involved in more than one-third of journalist murders worldwide since 1992. That's a higher proportion than terrorist groups or criminal gangs."


Governments kill journalists who do nothing more than seek and report the truth? Surely not? Certainly, no democratically elected government would ever do such an appalling thing!

Yet in Gaza, on the same day the CPJ figures were released, Israeli military missiles targeted and killed two news cameramen working for Al-Aqsa TV (their car marked "TV" in neon-coloured letters) and the director of Al-Quds' Educational Radio.

Earlier that same week, Israeli missile strikes zeroed in on two Gaza buildings, widely known to house a score of international and local media organizations. Among them, Reuters (owned by Canada's Thomson Corporation), The Associated Press, CNN, Sky News, Russia Today, Al-Arabiya, Al-Aqsa TV, Al-Quds TV, and the Ma'an News Agency. Nine journalists were injured in the attack.

Israel didn't even offer the conventional governmental explanations most governments use to excuse attacks on journalists. That the deaths and injuries happened in the fog of war and were an accident. Or that someone else did it.

Instead, an Israeli military spokeswoman explained blandly and with, no doubt, deliberate vagueness: "The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity."

Which means that Israel claims the right to kill anyone who, in its opinion, has "relevance to terror activity." Which means, in turn, that any government, including our own Canadian government (which supports Israel in just about everything it does), can use that same excuse any time it wishes to kill a few journalists it doesn't like.

For instance, all our government has to do is remind us of the FLQ crisis 42 years ago. Then declare journalists at the souverainiste newspaper Le Québécois and Québec-Radio "people who have relevance to terror activity." A few well-placed rockets will doubtless handle that problem too.

Things are so bad that the International Press Institute (IPI) has an official Death Watch, detailing deliberate killings of journalists going back to 1997.

Last Friday was International Day to End Impunity. It's the day when journalists and civil society groups around the world speak up against impunity from punishment -- including government impunity -- that allows, even encourages violence against journalists:

"Impunity means it is all right to take the voice away from those who speak in the public interest or those with whom you don't agree or those who tell the stories others might not like to hear."

Here's part of a final draft of a United Nations report on what it calls The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity:

"Without freedom of expression, and particularly freedom of the press, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible."

"Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is [one] observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship."


So next time you read about a journalist killed in the line of duty you might remember John Donne's great poem No Man Is An Island:

"... send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee."


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  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-DAILY LIFE

    Syrians walk past a closed shop in the northern town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on September 29, 2012. More than 30,000 people have died in violence since the outbreak of a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in March last year that grew into an insurgency, after dissent was met with brutal repression by the regime. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • ADDITION-SYRIA-CONFLICT

    ADDS DETAIL TO CAPTION- TO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY MARIE ROUDANI Syrian children walk past a Syrian government army tank, destroyed during fighting in mid July 2012, in the northern Syria town of Azaz, on September 29, 2012 .Huge photographs of burnt out tanks displayed on the walls of the police station in Azaz proudly proclaim the town's capture by Syrian rebels, but they conquered a community whose public buildings have been devastated, largely by their own arms. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Syrian children line up to buy bread outside a bakery in the northern town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on September 29, 2012. More than 30,000 people have died in violence since the outbreak of a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in March last year that grew into an insurgency, after dissent was met with brutal repression by the regime. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Syrians line up to buy bread outside a bakery in the northern town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on September 29, 2012. More than 30,000 people have died in violence since the outbreak of a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in March last year that grew into an insurgency, after dissent was met with brutal repression by the regime. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-DAILY LIFE

    Syrian schoolgirls walk to their makeshift school in the northern town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, on September 29, 2012. More than 30,000 people have died in violence since the outbreak of a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in March last year that grew into an insurgency, after dissent was met with brutal repression by the regime. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-PETROL

    TO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY MARY ROUDANI A woman and children walk past an improvised gas station in the town of Azaz, northern Syria, on September 29, 2012. Like most commodities in sanctions-hit and war-stricken Syria, the price of petrol has risen dramatically since the start of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-PETROL

    TO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY MARY ROUDANI A man and women drive past a closed down gas station in the town of Azaz, northern Syria on September 29, 2012. Like most commodities in sanctions-hit and war-stricken Syria, the price of petrol has risen dramatically since the start of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-PETROL

    TO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY MARY ROUDANI A man and boy fill a vehicle at an improvised gas station in the town of Azaz, northern Syria on September 29, 2012. Like most commodities in sanctions-hit and war-stricken Syria, the price of petrol has risen dramatically since the start of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    TO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY MARIE ROUDANI A Syrian man walks past buildings destroyed during fighting in mid July 2012, in the northern Syria town of Azaz, on September 29, 2012. Huge photographs of burnt out tanks displayed on the walls of the police station in Azaz proudly proclaim the town's capture by Syrian rebels, but they conquered a community whose public buildings have been devastated, largely by their own arms. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from Shaam News Network (SNN), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a fire rages at a medieval souk in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian rebels and residents of Aleppo struggled Saturday to contain a huge fire that destroyed parts of the city's medieval souks, or markets, following raging battles between government troops and opposition fighters there, activists said. Some described the overnight blaze as the worst blow yet to a historic district that helped make the heart of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and commercial hub, a UNESCO world heritage site. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from Ugarit news, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian rebels gather as they engage government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Sept. 28,2012. Syrian rebels and residents of Aleppo struggled Saturday to contain a huge fire that destroyed parts of the city's medieval souks, or markets, following raging battles between government troops and opposition fighters there, activists said. Some described the overnight blaze as the worst blow yet to a historic district that helped make the heart of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and commercial hub, a UNESCO world heritage site. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

  • In this picture taken on Monday September 24, 2012, Free Syrian Army fighters drink tea next to closed shops, at the souk of the old city of Aleppo city, Syria. Fires sparked by clashes between government troops and rebels raged through the medieval marketplace of Aleppo on Saturday, destroying hundreds of shops lining the vaulted passageways where foods, fabrics, perfumes and spices have been sold for centuries, activists said. Arabic writing on the closed shop at right reads:"Aleppo."(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this picture taken on Monday September 24, 2012, a Free Syrian Army fighter sleeps at an old Turkish bath, or hamam, which now serves as a rebel base, in the souk of the old city of Aleppo city, Syria. Fires sparked by clashes between government troops and rebels raged through the medieval marketplace of Aleppo on Saturday, destroying hundreds of shops lining the vaulted passageways where foods, fabrics, perfumes and spices have been sold for centuries, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • In this picture taken on Monday September 24, 2012, Free Syrian Army fighter sit at one of their positions next to closed shops at the souk in the old city of Aleppo city, Syria. Fires sparked by clashes between government troops and rebels raged through the medieval marketplace of Aleppo on Saturday, destroying hundreds of shops lining the vaulted passageways where foods, fabrics, perfumes and spices have been sold for centuries, activists said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

  • Ghassan Baradan

    In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 photo, Ghassan Baradan, 50, a farmer who fled his southern restive border town of Daraa, Syria with his family in July, speaks during an interview at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, in Mafraq, Jordan. Jordan now hosts 200,000 Syrians, the largest number of refugees of any neighboring country. After months of delay, Jordan finally opened its first official refugee camp in July at Zaatari, near the border with Syria. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 photo, the 46-year-old wife of farmer Ghassan Baradan, who fled her southern restive border town of Daraa, Syria with her family in July, wipes her eyes as she speaks during an interview at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, in Mafraq, Jordan. Jordan now hosts 200,000 Syrians, the largest number of refugees of any neighboring country. After months of delay, Jordan finally opened its first official refugee camp in July at Zaatari, near the border with Syria. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Syrians inspect damages in the old city of Aleppo after the area was shelled by Syrian regime forces on September 30, 2012. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Smoke billows from a burning textile factory after a nearby position held by Syrian rebels was shelled by regime forces in the neighbourhood of Arqub in the northern city of Aleppo on September 30, 2012. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MARIE ROUDANI A picture combo shows Syrian rebels (top L-R) 18-year-old construction worker Ali, 24-year-old cybercafe owner Jaafar, 24-year-old unemployed civilian Ahmed, (bottom L-R) 21-year-old construction worker Jamil, 20-year-old Republican Guard deserter Ali and 25-year-old car mechanic Aghuth posing for a picture in the northern city of Aleppo on September 30, 2012. The Free Syrian Army is a patchwork of deserters and civilians who have taken up arms against regime forces. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Syrian rebels take position during clashes with regime forces in the old city of Aleppo in northern Syria on September 30, 2012. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    A Syrian rebel fires towards regime forces as his comrade ducks for cover during clashes in the old city of Aleppo in northern Syria on September 30, 2012. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    A picture shows damages in the neighbourhood of Arqub in the northern city of Aleppo as smoke billows from a burning textile factory after a nearby position held by Syrian rebels was shelled by regime forces on September 30, 2012. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Syrian children, who fled their homes with their families due to fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces, take refuge at the Medhat Taky al-Deen school, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. Many Syrians who fled violence in their country are either staying with relatives, renting apartments, or taking refuge at schools. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian man stands in rubble at the scene of a car bomb attack in Qamishli, 497 miles (800 Kilometers) northeast Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. A suicide attacker detonates a car bomb at a Syrian security compound in a remote, predominantly Kurdish area, killing at least four people in the latest sign that Syria's largest ethnic minority is increasingly being drawn into a widening civil war. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian men inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Qamishli, 497 miles (800 Kilometers) northeast Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. A suicide attacker detonates a car bomb at a Syrian security compound in a remote, predominantly Kurdish area, killing at least four people in the latest sign that Syria's largest ethnic minority is increasingly being drawn into a widening civil war. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • A displaced Syrian woman and her grandson in a refugee camp In the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • A displaced Syrian boy stands in a refugee camp at the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    A Syrian rebel runs for cover during clashes in the area around the Zacharias mosque in the old city of Aleppo, in northern Syria on October 1, 2012. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-ALEPPO

    Shops are shuttered in the souk in the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria, on October 1, 2012, as fighting rages on in the city between rebel forces and Syrian army troops. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    A man walks along a street past rubble from damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo following months of clashes between Syrian rebels and government forces on October 1, 2012. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    A doctor looks at the register of dead people, stained with blood, in a hospital in the eastern sector of the city of Aleppo on October 1, 2012. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT-ALEPPO

    Shops are shuttered in the souk in the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria, on October 1, 2012, as fighting rages on in the city between rebel forces and Syrian army troops. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A displaced Syrian woman is seen between some tents in a refugee camp at the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

  • SYRIA-CONFLICT

    Syrian refugee children rally on the Syrian-Turkish border on October 1, 2012. Army shelling and air raids killed dozens more civilians including children in Syrian flashpoints, a watchdog said, while rebels and loyalists fought close-quarter battles in Aleppo's main souk. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Rada Hallabi, 4, who is sick with diabetes, lies on a blanket in a refugee camp on the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises from buildings due to government shelling in Idlib province, northern Syria, on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • Syrian boys play near a refugee camp on the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • Walid Moallem

    Walid Moallem, Foreign Minister of Syria, addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Walid al-Moallem

    Walid al-Moallem, Foreign Minister of Syria, is guided to the podium before speaking at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • A defaced portrait of Bashar El Assad is seen in a school, used as an emergency refugee camp in Souran village, near the Turkish border with Syria, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Activists say government warplanes bombed a town northwest of Aleppo, killing at least 21 people including five children. One report says 30 people were killed in the town, just four miles from the border with Turkey. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • A displaced Syrian woman covers her face with a scarf in a school, where almost 15 families from Homs are living, in Souran Syria, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Activists say government warplanes bombed a town northwest of Aleppo, killing at least 21 people including five children. One report says 30 people were killed in the town, just four miles from the border with Turkey. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

  • The body of a Syrian man is seen near Izaz's Hospital after being shot by a sniper in the countryside around Izaz, near the Turkish border with Syria, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Activists say government warplanes bombed a town northwest of Aleppo, killing at least 21 people including five children. One report says 30 people were killed in the town, just four miles from the border with Turkey. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • A displaced Syrian woman and her daughter stand at the door of a school where almost 15 families from Homs are living, in Souran village, Syria, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Activists say government warplanes bombed a town northwest of Aleppo, killing at least 21 people including five children. One report says 30 people were killed in the town, just four miles from the border with Turkey. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • A displaced Syrian woman and her granddaughter, only 15 days old, stand at the door of a school where almost 15 families from Homs are living, in Souran village, Syria, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Activists say government warplanes bombed a town northwest of Aleppo, killing at least 21 people including five children. One report says 30 people were killed in the town, just four miles from the border with Turkey. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

 

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